Archive for the ‘Medical’ Category

Formatting Gaia + Technological Symbiosis

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Patrick Millard | Formatting Gaia + Technological Symbiosis from vasa on Vimeo.

Nature and nurture work together to shape the brain

Monday, November 21st, 2011

At the Neuroscience 2011 conference, scientists at The Rockefeller University, The Scripps Research Institute, and the University of Pennsylvania presented new research  demonstrating the impact that life experiences can have on genes and behavior. The studies examine how such environmental information can be transmitted from one generation to the next — a phenomenon known as epigenetics. This new knowledge could ultimately improve understanding of brain plasticity, the cognitive benefits of motherhood, and how a parent‘s exposure to drugs, alcohol, and stress can alter brain development and behavior in their offspring.

The new findings show that:

  • Brain cell activation changes a protein involved in turning genes on and off, suggesting the protein may play a role in brain plasticity.
  • Prenatal exposure to amphetamines and alcohol produces abnormal numbers of chromosomes in fetal mouse brains. The findings suggest these abnormal counts may contribute to the developmental defects seen in children exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero.
  • Cocaine-induced changes in the brain may be inheritable. Sons of male rats exposed to cocaine are resistant to the rewarding effects of the drug.
  • Motherhood protects female mice against some of the negative effects of stress.
  • Mice conceived through breeding — but not those conceived through reproductive technologies — show anxiety-like and depressive-like behaviors similar to their fathers. The findings call into question how these behaviors are transmitted across generations.

Source | Kurzweil AI

Brain linked to robotic hand; success hailed

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Assistant professor Jennifer Collinger, left, watches as quadriplegic research subject Tim Hemmes operates the mechanical prosthetic arm in a testing session at UPMC. Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11283/1181062-53.stm#ixzz1au8uO2qm

When it happened, emotions flashed like lightning.

The nearby robotic hand that Tim Hemmes was controlling with his mind touched his girlfriend Katie Schaffer’s outstretched hand.

One small touch for Mr. Hemmes; one giant reach for people with disabilities.

Tears of joy flowing in an Oakland laboratory that day continued later when Mr. Hemmes toasted his and University of Pittsburgh researchers’ success at a local restaurant with two daiquiris.

A simple act for most people proved to be a major advance in two decades of research that has proven to be the stuff of science fiction.

Mr. Hemmes’ success in putting the robotic hand in the waiting hand of Ms. Schaffer, 27, of Philadelphia, represented the first time a person with quadriplegia has used his mind to control a robotic arm so masterfully.

The 30-year-old man from Connoquenessing Township, Butler County, hadn’t moved his arms, hands or legs since a motorcycle accident seven years earlier. But Mr. Hemmes had practiced six hours a day, six days a week for nearly a month to move the arm with his mind.

That successful act increases hope for people with paralysis or loss of limbs that they can feed and dress themselves and open doors, among other tasks, with a mind-controlled robotic arm. It’s also improved the prospects of wiring around spinal cord injuries to allow motionless arms and legs to function once again.








“I think the potential here is incredible,” said Dr. Michael Boninger, director of UPMC’s Rehabilitation Institute and a principal investigator in the project. “This is a breakthrough for us.”

Mr. Hemmes? They say he’s a rock star.

Reading brain signals

In a project led by Andrew Schwartz, Ph.D., a University of Pittsburgh professor of neurobiology, researchers taught a monkey how to use a robotic arm mentally to feed itself marshmallows. Electrodes had been shallowly implanted in its brain to read signals from neurons known to control arm motion.

Electrocorticography or ECoG — in which an electronic grid is surgically placed against the brain without penetration — less intrusively captures brain signals.

ECoG has been used to locate sites of seizures and do other experiments in patients with epilepsy. Those experiments were prelude to seeking a candidate with quadriplegia to test ECoG’s capability to control a robotic arm developed by Johns Hopkins University.

The still unanswered question was whether the brains of people with long-term paralysis still produced signals to move their limbs.

ECoG picks up an array of brain signals, almost like a secret code or new language, that a computer algorithm can interpret and then move a robotic arm based on the person’s intentions. It’s a simple explanation for complex science.

Mr. Hemmes’ name cropped up so many times as a potential candidate that the team called him to gauge his interest.

He said no.

He already was involved in a research in Cleveland and feared this project would interfere. But knowing they had the ideal candidate, they called back. This time he agreed, as long as it would not limit his participation in future phases of research.

Mr. Hemmes became quadriplegic July 11, 2004, apparently after a deer darted onto the roadway, causing him to swerve his motorcycle onto gravel where his shoulder hit a mailbox, sending him flying headfirst into a guardrail. The top of his helmet became impaled on a guardrail I-beam, rendering his head motionless while his body continued flying, snapping his neck at the fourth cervical vertebra.

A passer-by found him with blue lips and no signs of breathing. Mr. Hemmes was flown by rescue helicopter to UPMC Mercy and diagnosed with quadriplegia — a condition in which he had lost use of his limbs and his body below the neck or shoulders. He had to learn how to breathe on his own. His doctor told him it was worst accident he’d ever seen in which the person survived.

But after the process of adapting psychologically to quadriplegia, Mr. Hemmes chose to pursue a full life, especially after he got a device to operate a computer and another to operate a wheelchair with head motions.

Since January, he has operated the website — www.Pittsburghpitbullrescue.com — to rescue homeless pit bulls and find them new owners.

The former hockey player’s competitive spirit and willingness to face risk were key attributes. Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, the UPMC neurosurgeon who would install the ECoG in Mr. Hemmes’ brain, said he had strong motivation and a vision that paralysis could be cured.

Ever since his accident, Mr. Hemmes said, he’s had the goal of hugging his daughter Jaylei, now 8. This could be the first step.

“It’s an honor that they picked me, and I feel humbled,” Mr. Hemmes said.

Mental gymnastics

Mr. Hemmes underwent several hours of surgery to install the ECoG at a precise location against the brain. Wires running under the skin down to a port near his collarbone — where wires can connect to the robotic arm — caused him a stiff neck for a few days.

Two days after surgery, he began exhaustive training on mentally maneuvering a computer cursor in various directions to reach and make targets disappear. Next he learned to move the cursor diagonally before working for hours to capture targets on a three-dimensional computer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed the trial to last only 28 days, when the ECoG is removed. The project, initially funded by UPMC, has received more than $6 million in funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA.

Initially Mr. Hemmes tried thinking about flexing his arm to move the cursor. But he had better success visually grabbing the ball-shaped cursor to throw it toward a target on the screen. The “mental eye-grabbing” worked best when he was relaxed.

Soon he was capturing 15 of 16 targets and sometimes all 16 during timed sessions. The next challenge was moving the robotic arm with his mind.

The same mental processes worked, but the arm moved more slowly and in real space. But time was ticking away as the experiment approached its final days last month. With Mr. Hemmes finally moving the arm in all directions, Wei Wang — assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Pitt’s School of Medicine who also has worked on the signalling system — stood in front of him and raised his hand.

The robotic arm that Mr. Hemmes was controlling moved with fits and starts but in time reached Dr. Wang’s upheld hand. Mr. Hemmes gave him a high five.

The big moment arrived.

Katie Schaffer stood before her boyfriend with her hand extended. “Baby,” she said encouraging him, “touch my hand.”

It took several minutes, but he raised the robotic hand and pushed it toward Ms. Schaffer until its palm finally touched hers. Tears flowed.

“It’s the first time I’ve reached out to anybody in over seven years,” Mr. Hemmes said. “I wanted to touch Katie. I never got to do that before.”

“I have tattoos, and I’m a big, strong guy,” he said in retrospect. “So if I’m going to cry, I’m going to bawl my eyes out. It was pure emotion.”

Curing paralysis

Mr. Hemmes said his accomplishments represent a first step toward “a cure for paralysis.” The research team is cautious about such statements without denying the possibility. They prefer identifying the goal of restoring function in people with disabilities.

“This was way beyond what we expected,” Dr. Tyler-Kabara said. “We really hit a home run, and I’m thrilled.”

The next phase will include up to six people tested in another 30-day trial with ECoG. A year-long trial will test the electrode array that shallowly penetrates the brain. Goals during these phases include expanding the degrees of arm motions to allow people to “pick up a grape or grasp and turn a door knob,” Dr. Tyler-Kabara said.

Anyone interested in participating should call 1-800-533-8762.

Mr. Hemmes says he will participate in future research.

“This is something big, but I’m not done yet,” he said. “I want to hug my daughter.”

Source | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Carnegie Mellon competitions aimed at building useful robots

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Carnegie Mellon University will host a series of “RoboBowl“ competitions aimed at bringing new robotic technologies for manufacturing, healthcare, and national security applications, reports Network World.

Source | Kurzweil AI

‘Trojan horse’ particle sneaks chemotherapy in to kill ovarian cancer cells

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London have delivered a common chemotherapy drug to cancer cells inside tiny microparticles. The drug reduced ovarian cancer tumors in an animal model by 65 times more than using the standard method. This approach is now being developed for clinical use.

The lead researcher Dr Ateh and colleagues found that by coating tiny microparticles of around 0.5 μm diameter with a special protein called CD95, they trigger cancer cells into ingesting these particles and deliver a dose of a common chemotherapy drug called paclitaxel.

The key to their success is that CD95 attaches to another protein called CD95L, which is found much more commonly on the surface of cancer cells than it is on normal healthy cells. Once attached, the cancer cells ingest CD95 and the microparticle with it. Inside the cell, the microparticle can unload its chemotherapy cargo, which kills the cell to reduce the size of the tumor.

The researchers are now advancing these studies and the start-up company BioMoti, which will develop the technology for clinical use, is planning to partner with established pharmaceutical companies for the clinical development of new treatments in specific types of cancer.

Ref.: Davidson D. Ateh et al., The intracellular uptake of CD95 modified paclitaxel-loaded poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) microparticles, Biomaterials, August 2011

Source | KurzweilAI

New tools accelerate mapping the brain’s connectome

Friday, July 29th, 2011

New software tools to reconstruct neural wiring diagrams quickly and accurately have been developed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research to allow neuroscientists to understand the structure of the brain’s circuits — the connectome.

A reconstruction of 114 rod bipolar nerve cells from a piece of mouse retina. The dense bundles (top) are dendrites, and the sparser processes below are axons

The researchers created two new computer programs, KNOSSOS (named for Crete’s legendary palace, renowned for its elaborate labyrinth) and RESCOP, and mapped a network of 114 neurons from a mouse retina faster and more accurately than with previous methods.

The researchers started by staining the neurons of a section of tissue with heavy metals to make them visible. Using three-dimensional electron microscope images, they started at the cell body and followed the dendrites and axons, marking the branch point nodes on the screen. Then they used a computer to generate a three-dimensional image of the section.

The KNOSSOS software is about 50 times faster than other programs in tracing connections between neurons. The RESCOP program allows dozens of people to work on the reconstruction at the same time and allows for error detection and reduction.

With some 70 billion neurons, each neuron linked to about a thousand others via dendrites and axons, and hundreds of thousands of kilometers of circuits, the human brain is so complex that for many years, it seemed impossible to reconstruct the network in detail, the researchers said.

Dendrites form dense bundles where bipolar cells receive signals from rod photoreceptors (gray spheres)

One person working alone with the currently available programs would take at least 30 years to reconstruct a path of just 30 centimeters in length, they estimate. Besides, these procedures are prone to error, since the branch points are not always easily recognized and the annotator’s attentiveness decreases with time.

Source | Kurzweil AI

How aging affects working-memory neuron firing rate and how to improve it

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

The neural networks in the brains of the middle-aged and elderly have weaker connections and fire less robustly than in youthful ones, Yale University researchers have found.

“With normal aging, there are impairments in the working memory functions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC),” says Amy F. T. Arnsten, professor or neurobiology at Yale University Medical School.

“The prefrontal cortex is the most evolved part of the brain, located just behind our forehead. It is our mental sketchpad, a process called working memory … essential for executive functions, allowing us to overcome distractions and interference, and helping us to multitask.”

The researchers studied the firing of PFC neurons in young, middle-aged, and old animals as they performed a working-memory task. Neurons in the prefrontal cortex of the young animals were able to maintain firing at a high rate during working memory, while neurons in older animals showed slower firing rates.

The aging prefrontal cortex appears to accumulate excessive levels of a signaling molecule called cAMP, which can open ion channels and weaken prefrontal neuronal firing, especially under stress, or from lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and other factors.

Average activity for the brain networks that subserve working memory

However, they found that agents that either inhibited cAMP or blocked cAMP-sensitive ion channels were able to restore more youthful firing patterns in the aged neurons, adjusting the neurochemical environment around the neurons to be more similar to that of a younger subject, and restoring the neuronal firing rates to more youthful levels. One of the compounds that enhanced neuronal firing was guanfacine, a medication that is already approved for treating hypertension in adults and prefrontal deficits in children, suggesting that it may be helpful in the elderly as well, the researchers note.

Source | Kurzweil AI

How the brain’s ‘workspace’ allows multitasking

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Cognitive neuroscientist Robert H. Logie at the University of Edinburgh has found that a “workspace” in the brain allows us to do something while other functions operate in the background or to apply ourselves to a single task involving more than one function, contrary to the “controlled attention” model.

“We have a range of different capacities, each with its own function, and they operate at the same time” when we perform a task or think about something, says Logie. Within this “multiple-component framework,” working memory capacity (the ability to keep track of ongoing mental processes and moment-to-moment changes in the immediate environment) is “the sum of the capacities of all these different functions.”

Logie used imaging data to demonstrate that if you ask people to do one sort of task, you get one brain pattern, and if you ask them to do another, you get another pattern. He said that if you make the same task harder (for example, remember word lists faster), “you see increased activation in the same area.” Complicate it by adding words to the sequence, and different networks fire.

The multiple-component model holds great practical promise, says Logie. If you see general impairment in aging or after brain damage, you can give only generalized support. However, where there is decline or impairment in specific cognitive functions, you can still exercise the remaining robust functions.  This can help people live richer, more independent lives, says Logie.

Source | Kurzweil AI

Nano-sized drug transporter targets carcer-causing oncogenes more effectively

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Seeking to improve cancer treatments, Ohio State University scientists have created a tiny drug transporter (nanocarrier) design that maximizes its ability to silence damaging genes by more effectively penetrating a target cell.

The researchers used small interfering RNA (siRNA), an important gene-regulation mechanism that has the potential to protect cells against invaders, such as viruses, or to diminish the activity of oncogenes that cause cancer. The siRNA were encased in the lipid-based (containing fatty-molecules) nanocarrier to silence genes, rendering the genes unable to produce proteins that lead to disease or other health problems. Specific helper molecules were attached to the carrier’s surface to enhance the transporter’s effectiveness.

In experiments in cells comparing the effects of traditional carriers and the researcher’s nanocarrier, the researchers found that siRNA delivered by the nanocarrier was about six times more effective at silencing target gene activity than the siRNA transported by traditional carriers. Their nanocarrier reduced the associated protein production by 95 percent, compared to a 70.6 percent reduction in proteins resulting from the use of the traditional carrier.

The researchers said the increased exposure of siRNA to the main part of the cell was a result of the use of helper molecules on the surface that help it slip more easily into the cell.

Their work was selected for a 2011 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) Innovation in Biotechnology Award. The researchers were invited to present the work at the recent AAPS National Biotechnology Conference.

Source | Kurzweil AI

The world’s deadliest distinction: why aren’t the oldest living people getting any older?

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Last month, a 114-year-old former schoolteacher from Georgia named Besse Cooper became the world’s oldest living person. Her predecessor, Brazil’s Maria Gomes Valentim, was 114 when she died. So was the oldest living person before her, and the one before her. In fact, eight of the last nine “world’s oldest” titleholders were 114 when they achieved the distinction.  Here’s the morbid part: All but two were still 114 when they passed it on. Those two? They died at 115.

The celebration surrounding Cooper when she assumed the title, then, might as well have been accompanied by condolences. If historical trends hold, she will likely be dead within a year.

It’s no surprise that it’s hard to stay the “world’s oldest” for very long. These people are, after all, really old. What’s surprising is just how consistent the numbers have been. Just seven people whose ages could be fully verified by the Gerontology Research Group have ever made it past 115. Only two of those seven lived to see the 21st century. The longest-living person ever, a French woman named Jeanne Calment, died at age 122 in August 1997; no one since 2000 has come within five years of matching her longevity.

Jeanne Calment, the longest-living person ever, died at age 122

The inventor Ray Kurzweil, famous for bold predictions thatoccasionally come true, estimated in 2005 that, within 20 years, advances in medical technology would enable humans to extend their lifespans indefinitely. With six years gone and 14 to go, his prophecy doesn’t seem that much closer to coming true. What happened to modern medicine giving us longer lives? Why aren’t we getting any older?

We are living longer—at least, some of us are. Life expectancies in most countries not ravaged by AIDS have been rising gradually for decades, and the average American today can expect to live 79 years—four years longer than the average in 1990. In many developed countries, the superold are among the fastest-growing demographics. (There is evidence that this progress may be grinding to a halt among some demographics, however.) But raising the upper bounds of the human lifespan is turning out to be trickier than increasing the average person’s life expectancy. This may be a case where, as with flying cars, a popular vision of technological progress runs afoul of reality’s constraints.

In the past few years, the global count of supercentenarians—people 110 and older—has leveled off at about 80. And the maximum age hasn’t budged. Robert Young, senior gerontology consultant for the Guinness Book of World Records, says, “The more people are turning 110, the more people are dying at 110.”

Young calls this the “rectangularization of the mortality curve.” To illustrate it, he points to Japan, which in 1990 had 3,000 people aged 100 and over, with the oldest being 114. Twenty years later, Japan has an estimated 44,000 people over the age of 100—and the oldest is still 114.  For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Young says, the odds of a person dying in any given year between the ages of 110 and 113 appear to be about one in two. But by age 114, the chances jump to more like two in three.

It’s still possible that the barrier will eventually go the way of the four-minute mile. Steve Austad, a former lion tamer who is now a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, argues the apparent spike in mortality at age 114 is merely a statistical artifact. Today’s oldest humans, he’s reminds us, grew up without the benefit of 20th-century advances in nutrition and medicine. In 2000, he bet fellow gerontologist S. Jay Olshansky $500 million that someone born that year, somewhere in the world, would live to be 150. Olshansky, an Illinois at Chicago professor who wrote about the paradox of longevity for Slate last fall, doesn’t expect to be around in 2150 to collect his winnings. Even a cure for cancer or heart disease would do little to extend the maximum length of human life, he argues, because there are simply too many risk factors that pile up by the time a person is 115 years old. He believes supercentenarians owe their longevity more to freakish genes than perfect health; the 122-year-old Calment smoked cigarettes for 96 years. Olshansky and Austad agree on one point: A technological breakthrough, perhaps in the realm of genetics, that slows the aging process could send life spans surging upward.

Is such a discovery imminent? At this point, the question is little more than a Rorschach. Young, the Guinness World Records consultant, compares the quest for superlongevity to the efforts of alchemists in the Middle Ages to turn lead into gold. They were right to think it was possible, but wrong to imagine they had any idea where to begin: Scientists finally succeeded in transmuting elements in the 20th century only after first unlocking nuclear physics. By that time, alchemy was largely irrelevant; the real trick was splitting uranium atoms.

The same may be true of enabling humans to live to 150. Age, it’s worth remembering, is more than just a number. Young, who has spent time with dozens of supercentenarians, says even the hardiest humans turn frail by 110. As for Besse Cooper, the new world titleholder, Young reports that she can still talk, though her eyesight is failing. “As a quality-of-life issue, I think she could handle another year. I’ve seen some that, bless their hearts, probably shouldn’t be here anymore.”

Source | Slate.com

Tattoo Tracks Sodium and Glucose via an iPhone

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Using a nanosensor “tattoo” and a modified iPhone, cyclists could closely monitor sodium levels to prevent dehydration, and anemic patients could track their blood oxygen levels.

Phone sensor: This modified iPhone case can be used to detect sodium levels via a nanosensor “tattoo.”

Heather Clark, a professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Northeastern University, is leading a team working to make this possible. The team begins by injecting a solution containing carefully chosen nanoparticles into the skin. This leaves no visible mark, but the nanoparticles will fluoresce when exposed to a target molecule, such as sodium or glucose. A modified iPhone then tracks changes in the level of fluorescence, which indicates the amount of sodium or glucose present. Clark presented this work at the BioMethods Bostonconference at Harvard Medical School last week.

The tattoos were originally designed as a way around the finger-prick bloodletting that is the standard technique for measuring glucose levels in those with diabetes. But Clark says they could be used to track many things besides glucose and sodium, offering a simpler, less painful, and more accurate way for many people to track many important biomarkers.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that this sort of technology will catch on,” says Jim Burns, head of drug and biomedical research and development at Genzyme.

The tattoo developed by Clark’s team contains 120-nanometer-wide polymer nanodroplets consisting of a fluorescent dye, specialized sensor molecules designed to bind to specific chemicals, and a charge-neutralizing molecule.

Once in the skin, the sensor molecules attract their target because they have the opposite charge. Once the target chemical is taken up, the sensor is forced to release ions in order to maintain an overall neutral charge, and this changes the fluorescence of the tattoo when it is hit by light. The more target molecules there are in the patient’s body, the more the molecules will bind to the sensors, and the more the fluorescence changes.

The original reader was a large boxlike device. One of Clark’s graduate students, Matt Dubach, improved upon that by making a modified iPhone case that allows any iPhone to read the tattoos.

Here’s how it works: a case that slips over the iPhone contains a nine-volt battery, a filter that fits over the iPhone’s camera, and an array of three LEDs that produce light in the visible part of the spectrum. This light causes the tattoos to fluoresce. A light-filtering lens is then placed over the iPhone’s camera. This filters out the light released by the LEDs, but not the light emitted by the tattoo. The device is pressed to the skin to prevent outside light from interfering.

Dubach and Clark hope to create an iPhone app that would easily measure and record sodium levels. At the moment, the iPhone simply takes images of the fluorescence, which the researchers then export to a computer for analysis. They also hope to get the reader to draw power from the iPhone itself, rather than from a battery.

Clark is working to expand her technology from glucose and sodium to include a wide range of potential targets. “Let’s say you have medication with a very narrow therapeutic range,” she says. Today, “you have to try it [a dosage] and see what happens.” She says her nanosensors, in contrast, could let people monitor the level of a given drug in their blood in real time, allowing for much more accurate dosing.

The researchers hope to soon be able to measure dissolved gases, such as nitrogen and oxygen, in the blood as a way of checking respiration and lung function. The more things they can track, the more applications will emerge, says Clark.

Source | Technology Review

Robotic arm and videogames help stroke victims

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Patients suffering from a stroke will be able to enhance their arm mobility using a portable robotic device and a software platform with videogames developed by FIK, a Basque business initiative that is researching disabilities.

The FIK ArmAssist platform consists of a mobile-based device connected to a user through an orthopedic brace that records and measures shoulder and elbow movements. A computer links arm movements with videogames (including puzzles, memory games, and solitaire) developed for exercising the upper limbs. These videogames help with range of motion, force, distance, and precision.

Rehabilitation involves a combination of exercises carried out in the hospital under medical supervision and a series of recommended exercises at home. “Tele-rehabilitation” software (included with ArmAssist) also links patients at home and therapists via an Internet connection, also allowing doctors to monitor their patients.

ArmAssist can be used by acute-phase patients, after having suffered a brain stroke, as well as chronic patients, for continuous training of the upper limbs for other kinds of disorders.

The ArmAssist project is currently based at the La Fe Hospital in Valencia, Spain, with the aim of determining the degree of satisfaction of patients who have suffered a brain stroke and have been admitted to this hospital.

Today 15 million persons throughout the world suffer from a stroke every year and 5 million are left with chronic disabilities.

Source | Kurzweil AI

Neural signature of ‘mental time travel’

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt University researchers have found neurobiological evidence for the context reinstatement hypothesis: that memories formed nearby in time become linked.

“When I remember my grandmother, for example, I pull back all sorts of associations of a different time and place in my life,” said University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Kahana. “I’m also remembering living in Detroit and her Hungarian cooking. It’s like mental time travel. I jump back in time to the past, but I’m still grounded in the present.”

To test this hypothesis, researchers made electrocorticographic recordings (subdural and depth electrodes) as 69 neurosurgical patients studied and recalled lists of words during treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy.

By examining the activity of the implanted electrodes, the researchers were able to measure when the brain’s response was similar to a previously recorded pattern. When a patient recalled a word, their brain activity was similar to when they studied the same word, the researchers said. In addition, the patterns at recall contained traces of other words that were studied prior to the recalled word.

Electrocorticographic recordings establish evidence for the context reinstatement hypothesis. Each dot marks the location of a single electrode.

“What seems to be happening is that when patients recall a word, they bring back not only the thoughts associated with the word itself but also remnants of thoughts associated with other words they studied nearby in time,” Kahana said.

Source | Kurzweil AI

NSF funds $18.5 million effort to create mind-machine interfaces

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

An $18.5 million grant to establish an Engineering Research Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering based at the University of Washington (UW) has been announced by the National Science Foundation .

Researchers will develop new technologies for amputees, for spinal cord injuries, and people with cerebral palsy, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or age-related neurological disorders.

Scientists at the UW and partner institutions will work to perform mathematical analysis of the body’s neural signals, design and test implanted and wearable prosthetic devices, and build new robotic systems.

“The center will work on robotic devices that interact with, assist and understand the nervous system,” said director Yoky Matsuoka, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering at UW. “It will combine advances in robotics, neuroscience, electromechanical devices, and computer science to restore or augment the body’s ability for sensation and movement.”

Source | Kurzweil AI

Wireless power could cut cord for patients with implanted heart pumps

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have tested a wireless power system for ventricular assist devices (mechanical pumps to give failing hearts a boost), or VADs.

VAD were originally developed as temporary measures for patients awaiting a heart transplant. But as the technology has improved, these ventricular assist devices commonly operate in patients for years.

The researchers devised an inductive system that adjusts the frequency and other parameters as the distance or orientation between the transmitter and receiver coils changes, allowing for flexible yet efficient wireless power over medium distances.

Using this wireless system means no power cord poking through the skin, dramatically reducing the risk of infection and improving the patient’s quality of life, the researcher said. They envision a vest that could hold an external transmitter coil connected to a power cord or battery.

A small receiver coil implanted under the patient’s skin would connect to a battery that holds enough power for about two hours, meaning the patient could be completely free for short periods of time. Longer term, the researchers imagine additional power transmitters placed under a patient’s bed or chair, allowing patients to sleep, work or exercise at home unencumbered.

They demonstrated that the system could power a commercial heart pump running underwater using a receiver coil as small as 4.3 cm (1.7 inches) across. The power transmitted reliably with an efficiency of about 80 percent.

Researchers envision a future where patients would install transmission coils in their homes and workplaces to create zones where the implant would receive uninterrupted power

The researchers presented the work in Washington, D.C. at the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs annual meeting, where it received the Willem Kolff/Donald B. Olsen Award for most promising research in the development of artificial hearts.

Source | Kurzweil AI